Progressive leaders from state and local government attended Equality Wisconsin’s annual meeting on Sept. 21 to honor the Milwaukee County officials who led efforts earlier this year to extend domestic partner benefits to county workers.
Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele signed the benefits into law on Aug. 3 after the county board approved them on July 28 by a supermajority vote of 13-5. The board had previously passed a resolution to study the costs of the benefits in 2009, but former County Executive Scott Walker vetoed it.
The partnership benefits take effect on Jan. 1, 2012.
Milwaukee County Supervisors Marina Dimitrijevic and Eyon Biddle Sr. spearheaded the successful effort to obtain county board approval. But Dimitrijevic told meeting attendees that Equality Wisconsin was a “central part” of their successful effort.
“They were with us from the beginning to the end,” Dimitrijevic said. “Supervisors received hundreds of e-mails through their efforts. They had people calling their representatives. … This was a true grassroots effort.”
Biddle agreed. “Your phone calls were so effective,” he said. “I wish everyone could be as organized and passionate as you guys were. When you have advocates on the outside doing their work, the system works.”
Abele told listeners he was thrilled to have played a role in their efforts and reiterated his support for LGBT equality.
“This isn’t the position that needs to be defended,” he said. “It’s the other position that needs to be defended, and I haven’t heard a good defense yet.”
Thanks to Gov. Scott Walker, EW had a great year overall, said Ray Vahey, co-president of the group’s board of directors. “Walker was probably our best organizer,” he said, referring to the progressive backlash over the new governor’s far-right agenda.
EW outlined an ambitious agenda for its next fiscal year, including efforts to repeal the state’s same-sex marriage ban and pass a law banning discrimination based on gender identity. “Those are not going to be six-month projects,” Vahey said.
The organization is currently finalizing plans to hire an executive director to coordinate thsse efforts and others.
Other leaders who attended the Sept. 21 event included state Reps. Mark Pocan and Jon Richards and Milwaukee School Board member Larry Miller.